As I wrote about here, the board has been debating whether to assign the Kirkwood Elementary area to the Liberty High zone or the West High zone. The board recently voted 4-3 to assign Kirkwood to West High. One question that arose was what effect that assignment would have on enrollment at Liberty. Some were concerned that without Kirkwood, Liberty would not have the two hundred kids per class that the district saw as its initial goal. Others (including me) were concerned that sending Kirkwood to Liberty would cause Liberty’s enrollment to exceed its capacity as early as 2019, the first year it will have four full classes in the building.
(During Liberty’s first year of operation, the district is allowing juniors and seniors in the Liberty zone the option of staying at their previous high school; the same is true for seniors during Liberty’s second year. So it will not have four full classes until its third year, which is 2019-20.)
Projecting the enrollment at Liberty is not a straightforward task. The district’s most recent set of enrollment projections is of limited usefulness, since it makes projections based on our old set of elementary boundaries, which will not be the boundaries when Liberty opens. So the board asked the administration to make projections for Liberty based simply on moving forward the current cohorts of kids who are in the Liberty zone. For example, the kids who will be Liberty freshman in 2019 are this past year’s fifth-graders, so we can simply count the outgoing fifth-graders in Liberty’s zone and use that as an estimate of the 2019 freshman class.
Notice that that kind of projection is incomplete and inherently conservative, because it does not account for the expected population growth in the North Corridor. It also does not account for voluntary transfers into the Liberty zone, which could boost its attendance in the early years. (Under our current rules, voluntary transfers are not permitted once a building’s enrollment exceeds its capacity.) It also does not account for the possible decrease in open enrollment out to other districts (such as Clear Creek Amana) once Liberty is open.
This weekend, the administration provided those projections. The first one shows Liberty without Kirkwood included (click to enlarge):
The next one shows Liberty if Kirkwood is included (click to enlarge):
The projections show that Liberty will meet and exceed its goal of having two hundred kids per class as soon as it opens, even without Kirkwood being assigned there. (Any Liberty projection, however, is subject to the fact that there is no way to predict the junior and senior class enrollment in Liberty’s first year, or the senior class enrollment in its second year, because students in those years have the option of remaining at their previous school.)
The projections also show that if Kirkwood is assigned to Liberty, Liberty will be over capacity as soon as it has four full classes (in 2019). (Liberty's initial capacity will be 1000 students.) By 2021-22, the year before Liberty gets its 500-seat addition, the school would be at least 21% over capacity if Kirkwood is assigned there, plus whatever additional enrollment is attributable to population growth in the Corridor.
That said, the projected overcrowding is not as bad as I had anticipated in my previous post. My fellow board member Brian Kirschling argued that I had not accounted for the fact that enrollment in the North Corridor schools is currently disproportionately in the early grades, and you can definitely see that effect in these projections. Nonetheless, Kirkwood does put Liberty over capacity for three of its first five years—and again, these are conservative estimates.
The projections also give some idea of how much Liberty’s free-and-reduced-price lunch (FRL) rate would go up if Kirkwood is assigned there. (FRL is the district’s proxy for low-income status.) FRL status is hard to project into the future because it can vary with the economy and with housing patterns, and because it can change from year to year even as to any particular student, but it’s safe to say that when Liberty opens, its FRL would be closer to the district average, though still probably several percentage points below that of City High, if Kirkwood is assigned there.
Do these projections mean that Kirkwood cannot possibly be assigned to Liberty? No. The facilities master plan has always assumed that we can’t eliminate overcrowding overnight and that short-term overcrowding is a necessary evil—though it may be particularly hard to justify overcrowding when capacity is available elsewhere. What the projections do highlight is a tension between the goal of FRL balance and the goal of bringing enrollment in line with capacity. I continue to think that the main argument against assigning Kirkwood to Liberty is that we shouldn’t burden kids from low-income households with additional transportation barriers, as I wrote about here. But the capacity issue at Liberty is one more factor tilting against assigning Kirkwood there.